Ants in the Sun

A couple weeks ago, I was broadcasting seeds across a prairie we’d recently burned.  The sun had just popped out after several days of cool rainy weather, and its warmth felt pretty good.  As I crisscrossed the burned area, I noticed several large ant mounds.  When I looked closely at those mounds, I was surprised at the large number of ants massed on top.

Formica obscuriventris  TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

A few ants found a perch above the mob of ants beneath them on top of a large ant mound.  Formica obscuriventris.   TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Because it didn’t appear most of the ants were doing anything other than milling about, I surmised they were probably just enjoying the heat of the sun as I was.  James Trager, who graciously identified the ants for me, supported my guess.  He added that this kind of thermoregulatory behavior is common, and not only warms the individual ants, but also the inside of the mound as those warmer ants go back into the tunnels.

Mound building ants trying to drag a piece of earthworm into the mound.

Mound building ants trying to drag a piece of earthworm into the mound.

Not all the ants were just enjoying the sunshine, however.  At least a few were returning from hunting trips with food for the colony.  The foragers were dragging the food items up the mound and toward multiple tunnel entrances.  Unfortunately, it looked like it was going to be very difficult to get the food past the mob of ants.  In particular, I watched as several ants pulling a piece of earthworm toward the tunnels gave up after trying for several minutes to drag it into the mob.  Other ants periodically tried to pick it up and move it as well, but they also gave up.  I assume the piece of worm made it inside at some point, but I can’t confirm that…


A spider being carried toward the mound.


More food.

More food.

I enjoyed watching the ants, but eventually had to get back to work.  I was trying to help increase the plant diversity of the degraded prairie the ants are living in.  That broader range of plant species should help the ants in several ways, including by attracting a wider selection of insects for the ants to feed on.  I hope so.

Prairies Forever? Collaborative Conservation for Pheasants, Pollinators, and People.

Effective prairie conservation requires a collaborative effort among a wide variety of interests, including ecologists, naturalists, birdwatchers, ranchers, educators, hunters, and others.  Each of these might approach prairie conservation from a different perspective, but they have more in common than you might expect. 

People outside Nebraska might be surprised to learn that one of the strongest forces for prairie conservation in our state is Pheasants Forever.  Pheasants Forever, along with its sister organization Quail Forever, is helping protect, restore, and manage prairies in multiple ways, including:

–          Private lands biologists (17) who work with landowners on habitat projects, providing both advice and access to federal, state, and private cost-share assistance.

–          Promoting and facilitating the use of prescribed fire across the state by providing equipment and training opportunities, helping to establish and coordinate prescribed fire associations, and organizing landowner tours to showcase the value of prescribed fire.

–          Promoting the use of, and helping to provide, diverse native seed mixtures for habitat restoration/improvement projects.

–          Organizing workshops and field tours on habitat management, prairie restoration, plant identification, and pollinator conservation.

Pheasant hunters

These pheasant hunters enjoyed a very successful day in a recently-restored high-diversity prairie.  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The man who has provided most of the energy for these efforts for more than 20 years is Pete Berthelsen, who has just stepped into a new role for Pheasants Forever, Inc. and Quail Forever; the Director of Habitat Partnerships.  He is now charged with taking the kinds of habitat partnerships and statewide habitat programs he helped develop in Nebraska and replicating those programs across the organization at the national level.

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